Many women share a tempestuous relationship with the bike saddle. We love the bike, and we need to sit on the saddle to enjoy it – yet so many of us struggle to find a perch that provides the comfort we need.
Finding the right women’s bike saddle for you sometimes takes quite a bit of trial and error. Experts confirm that women’s anatomy varies more than men’s, which means finding the ideal perch is harder.
Choosing carefully can help limit the number of options you need to try before you’re finally united with your saddle soul mate.
Do female riders need women’s bike saddles?
There are many areas where the answer to the ‘female specific’ question is more grey than black and white, such as female specific bikes.
When it comes to saddles, most (but not all) women will find a female specific design more comfortable.
Statistically, most women have wider sit bones than most men – so the rear of the saddle usually needs to be wider.
Cut outs and relief channels were initially designed to meet men’s needs. However, the industry noticed that women tended to prefer them so now the majority of women’s saddles come with some sort of gap or groove. The ideal shape is very much down to personal preference.
How do you choose the right saddle?
You have a better chance of getting your saddle right in the first instance if you take some time to look at your riding style and current discomfort before you shop.
We’ve got a detailed guide to choosing the right saddle for you here – but here are some quick tips to help you make the right choice:
How do you sit on the bike?
If you sit in an aggressive position – low and stretched out – then you will probably suffer more with soft tissue discomfort. These riders very often get on well with saddles that have a flat and short design and a large pressure relief area – the Selle Italia SLR Lady flow is an example, the Speicalized Power also suits this rider well, as do ISM saddles. If you sit further back in a more upright position, you’ll likely want a curved saddle with more padding at the rear, like the Sella Italia Lady Gel flow.
Soft tissue variation
Cobb Saddles did some very interesting research, where they found correlations between the self-assessed physical appearance of a women’s vulva, and the type of saddle she’d be likely to get on with. In short, they found that ‘innies’ tended to like saddles with a narrow nose, whilst ‘outies’ liked those with a wider nose and relief channel.
Get your sit bones measured
To offer adequate support, your saddle width should be wider than your sit bones. Most local bike shops offers a sit bone measuring tool (Selle Royal, Selle Italia, Fizik and Specialized all have these tools to be used by their dealers). To be clear, sit bone width has nothing to do with jean size – so don’t base your saddle width on your clothing tag.
Our pick of the best women’s saddles
We’ve listed some of our favourite styles. Bear in mind that each model is usually available at assorted price points, dictated by the materials used. More expensive versions will be lighter, typically with carbon rails which both drop the grams and go some way to reducing road vibration.
Whilst we won’t discourage weight-weenie tenancies, we reckon getting a saddle you can sit on comfortably will be a significantly more effective performance boost than a few grams saved here and there.
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
The Power saddle from Specialized is marketed as a unisex saddle. However, it was developed initially for women, alongside former Boels-Dolmans rider, Evelyn Stevens. It just so happened that men got on with it to.
This is a perch which suits riders who want to get into a forward rotated position. Anecdotal evidence from bike fitters suggests it’s ideal for those who struggle to achieve this on a standard saddle. The short nose means it’s preferred by riders who stay in one place – Stevens is well known for her time trial abilities!
There is a large pressure relief channel, which is a cut out in the standard design. Alternatively, there’s the ‘MIMIC’ version with memory foam layers. This was created after extensive research and was designed to prevent riders from ‘falling in’ to the cut out.
Specialized Oura women’s saddle
Rumour has it that the Oura’s days in its current style are numbered, but we’re still huge fans and it’s a model that’s been recommended to Cycling Weekly team members by the likes of expert bike fitter, Phil Burt.
It’s not dissimilar to the now discontinued Ruby saddle which we rated 10/10, and which featured on former World Champion Lizzie Deignan’s bike in her Boels-Dolmans days.
With a wide rear and rounded contouring, coupled with ample cut out and a narrow nose, it suits a racer who wants to be able to get into an aggressive position whilst still having somewhere to go when sitting back, for example on a climb. It’s available in three widths, 143, 155 and 168mm.
Fizik Luce women’s saddle
After extensive research, Fizik launched a new women’s saddle, the Fizik Luce towards the tail end of 2016.
It’s a long and flat saddle, with a wide rear and a narrow nose. This should allow for plenty of movement, so riders can rotate into an aerodynamic position when it suits them and roll back on to their sit bones when in a more relaxed stance.
It comes in two widths, 144 and 155mm, and Fizik was particularly proud of the way it made the ‘wings’ at the rear flexible, so that they move as the rider pedals.
The cut out is pretty narrow, which won’t suit everyone.
Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow women’s saddle
The Lady Gel Flow is a saddle that divides option extensively. Closely related is the Selle Italia Diva Gel Flow – which is a very similar saddle but with a slightly narrower rear and linger cut out.
Both options come with a highly padded rear, with a curved shape, which means women riding in an upright position tend to find it really comfortable. There’s an Elastomer suspension shock absorbing layer too that works well for long days in the saddle.
However, those looking to rotate into an aggressive position typically find the wide nose restrictive.
Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow women’s saddle
A second option from Selle Italia, the SLR Lady Flow features a much larger relief cut out.
Whilst our reviewer found this a little wide, it’s worth remembering that saddle choice is very personal – and this is a hugely popular model among the female cycling community – particularly road racers.
It’s not generally suited to a rider who sits in a more upright position, because the rear has minimal padding.
ISM PN 1.1 Saddle
A second genuinely unisex version like the Power, ISM saddles are often popular among women who have tried almost every option on the quest to find a perch that doesn’t rub them up the wrong way. The shape may look odd, but if you sit in an far forward position and simply cannot get comfortable, ISM is a good call.
We’ve seen this saddle sitting proudly on the bikes of countless female pro track riders, as well as time trial riders and road racers.
The noseless shape allows the rider to sit right on the end of the saddle, relieving all soft tissue pressure – and the PN is a narrow version as many women reported finding the front too wide on standard models.
Selle SMP Dynamic
Selle SMP has a very distinctive approach to saddles, and most would argue that their perches won’t win many beauty contests. But you’re going to be sitting on it most of the time anyway, and they’re very well researched perches.
The kick up at the back provides support for the sit bones, whilst the nose curves to help it get out the way so you can rotate when you need to sit forward.
The brand has a ‘saddle’ selection guide to help you choose the best option for you, based on your riding, sit bone width and age. However, the Dynamic is a creation suited to road racers with wider sit bones – and a lot of women who ride in an aggressive position will confirm to this.
Extra tips for saddle shopping
Remember: a new saddle may result in you inadvertently causing a change your saddle height. If you get a new saddle, it is worth reassessing your saddle height.
If you’re still struggling with discomfort, make sure that your shorts aren’t the cause. Good cycling shorts should feature a seamless chamois of an adequate width – and they need to fit to be effective.
Cut down the chance of feeling like you’ve wasted your money on an improper perch by checking out the returns policy. Some companies let you try before you buy, occasionally using a test saddle, whilst others offer a 30 day money back guarantee.